Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Script Vs Film: The Jacket

First, you might be interested to check out Jimmy McGovern talking on Front Row (follow links) on BBC Radio 4 where he shares his views about script writing and the current state of British TV.

Now, The Jacket. Written by Massy Tadjedin, directed by John Maybury and starring Keira Knightley and Adrien Brody.

I was so frustrated with this script. It had great potential and initial intrigue, and then seemed to throw it all away in favour of some silly and implausible developments. I knew it was a film that was going to have a great deal of style and visual flair, so perhaps half the battle was won, but I was so annoyed by the script’s dodgy dramatisation that I pretty much avoided it once it was released.

The reviews more or less confirmed my opinion, and I still haven’t seen it. If you’ve checked it out, feel free to share your thoughts as opposed to the critique of the script, which follows below.

My logline: “A Gulf War hero suffers from post traumatic shock and when he is convicted of a murder of a policeman, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he undergoes severe treatment which somehow sends him forward in time so he can figure out whether or not he really did kill the policeman, and lay his personal issues to rest.”

My brief: “A searing psycho-drama along the lines of “Jacob’s Ladder” turns into a fairly risible time travel affair that is not adequately explained or paid off; this throws away its potential and intrigue with its erratic tone and naff developments.”

Comments (spoilers): “The first half of this premise is quite intriguing and dramatic - a Gulf War hero suffers from post traumatic shock and when he is convicted of a murder of a policeman, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he undergoes severe treatment. Unfortunately the latter part of the story – the severe treatment somehow sends him forward in time – turns the film into something else entirely and the story started to lose its tonal grip on the proceedings.

Moreover, the developments were far too naff and risible, and the impressive opening intrigue was ultimately wasted. Initially, the story gave off a strong impression that it was going to be a searing psycho-drama in the mould of “Jacob’s Ladder”, and the script’s style and structure effectively eked out interest and intrigue in the situation. The protagonist is haunted by fragmented images from his past in the Gulf War and when he is unsure about whether or not he killed a policeman, the story sits up with a generous amount of appeal and mystery.

He is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he undergoes severe treatment in an experimental device called ‘The Jacket’ but unfortunately it is here where the story takes an ill-advised change in its tone and drama.

‘The Jacket’ somehow sends the protagonist forward in time and he gets to walk around in present day 2004 while still having an emotional and physical toe in his other present day of 1992. This development did have some relevance to the plot and the story as William, the protagonist, meets up with a waitress whom he had met in 1992, and they investigate William’s apparent upcoming death.

Confusing? Well it is, and it isn’t. The narrative manages to stay on the right side of intriguing rather than confusing but regrettably the whole affair throws away its potential as it gets progressively muddled with the switches between 2004/1992. It was first thought that William’s initial experience in 2004 was just a hallucination but when the plot made it clear that ‘The Jacket’ was sending William forward in time, this was just too silly and insubstantial for the greater needs of the story.

More importantly, ‘The Jacket’s’ time travelling abilities are never adequately explained or paid off, and the latter half of the film became a risible mess, and partly lost sight of William’s goal to regain his sanity. The story focuses on William’s relationship with Jackie and his situation with the psychiatric hospital while the murder mystery involving the policeman is conveniently dealt with and the script becomes too silly.

There is a small but significant blemish in the script that tarnishes the material. One of the characters – Dr Lorenson – is introduced as a male character but then is inexplicably referred to as a female character. This was a glaring inconsistency of characterisation, presumably the character was male in the previous draft, but it only created further frustration and dissatisfaction.

The characterisation on the whole is alright, nothing spectacular. William Starks’s mental disorientation does manage to carry the film but his development wasn’t given a sufficient pay off with the film’s time travel tendencies. The importance of Dr Becker at the psychiatric hospital didn’t effectively combine with the romantic subplot between William and Jackie, and the male/female Dr Lorenson wasn’t used well enough to have an appropriate impact. Although the first part of this story has some appeal, the latter developments are less assured, and the film doesn’t leave a lasting impression.”


Anonymous said...

They didn't fix the problems, after the script that you saw. It was still rubbish. I would have actually welcomed a male doctor, turning into a woman, halfway through the script.

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

I am an aspiring screenwriter, part-time model/actress, I have been reading your blog since almost day one and I was just wondering if you had a partner/were married? You seem a good catch.


Paul Campbell said...


He'd be a great catch if you want charm, style, wit and intelligence.

But if you want fame, wealth and riches, he's a long shot!

Danny Stack said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Steady now.

Anonymous said...

Ego boost + 10


Maybe I'm being dim, but I can't seem to find this Jimmy McGovern interview on the Front Row archive - except for one that dates back to Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.

Oon a semi-related matter, Alan Bleasdale's wonderful TV serial GBH has just been released on DVD this week. Now I can finally through away my crappy, off-air VHS recordings from 1992.

James Moran said...

Careful, could be a honeytrap/test of faith!

David: speaking of Gunpowder, that's a very Guy Fawkes-esque beard you've got going on there. GBH was superb, haven't seen anything quite like it since.

Danny Stack said...

Go to Front Row section on the website, then on the right, click Monday's edition, and about half way thru is Jimmy McGovern's interview.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've just come across this blog, and it looks very interesting. I saw The Jacket recently, and I think that there is much more in the script than you can see on the surface.

It is absurdely childish and dark for a time travel movie, so from the beginning I tried another point of view:
I think that Brody's character gets shot in Irak and he loses somehow his mind (as a military man says in the tribunal). When he comes back to the States, he finds the little girl with her mother,and it's him who kills and rapes her (it's the story that the doctor tells him later in the hospital). Remember how scared was the mother?

Then he takes the car and kills the policeman. If you remember, the doctor tells him that after killing hte girl, he climbed a tree and barked like a wolf. Later, when he tries to scape, he looks at the trees in a strange way.

When he is reclused in the asylum, his conscience is trying to forget what happened and put the blame out of him (an ex-patient for the girl, and an imaginary guy for the cop). His subconscience tries to change what happened (sees the girl alive in the future and tries to make her "life" better) in order to release his guilt whenever he loses consciusness (he thinks that he is kept in a fridge box). All is invented, all the characters are Jack, Jackie, Jean (another form of Jack)

At the end, the boy that shots him in Irak is "magically" cured by him with a simple electroshock (since Brody's got no clinical experience he thinks that it is plausible), the little girl is grown has a great job and a wonderful mother.

When he dies (I think he commits suicide, that's why he knows when he's dying)) he thinks that he has got everything right again.

Probably even Kris Kristoferson is not real (they tell him so in a scene, and in one scene the doctor goes out of a nurse as appearing from the void) because it's a projection of his own cruelty and the anger of being in an asylum. Even the guard that takes him to the morgue, is one of the interns (or the other way around)

When Keyra asks him "Are you ok?" he answers "Everything's ok now", because in his mind he has just fixed everything he feeled rotten: the Iraqui child is sane, the little girl is alive with a good job and a good car (what he "stole" from her by murder and rape) and even the mother is not alcoholic (she was drunk when he met them and that's why it was easy for him to kill both of them). So now he feel like a good person that has cleaned his wrongs (in his allucination, that is)and now he can die in peace.

I think that the problem with the movie is that it offered no assuring clue to the viewer to see from the outside what is happening, we can only see the world through Jack's eyes. Not your average time travel movie...